HA LONG BAY CRUISE: My First Solo Backpacking Experience

April 2014 (Updated at 2016)

I started traveling in 2012 and my first destination was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan with my girlfriend. Then I visited Taal Volcano in Batangas with my family on that same year. In 2013, I had my very first international trip at Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand with some family friends. And then I realized that there was one more thing I had not done yet. Travelling ALONE. I started to wonder how other people pull it off. To visit a place they’re not really familiar with, away from their friends and their family. Right there and then, I decided to experience it for myself. But the question was, where to go? Since it was going to be my first time, I wanted it to be totally out of my comfort zone as well. Back then, the ‘7 Wonders of Nature’ was on top of my bucketlist. I had already visited the Subterranean  river when I went to Palawan and among the 3 remaining situated in Asia, Halong Bay seemed to be the most affordable and doable to visit. And with a merely 150 USD pocket money, I embarked on a plane bound to Hanoi, Vietnam for my first ever solo backpacking trip.

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Ha Long Bay

Ha Long bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and listed as one of the ‘7 Wonders of Nature’ along with Underground River of the Philippines, Jeju Island of South Korea, Komodo National Park of Indonesia, Iguazu Falls of Brazil, Table Mountain of South Africa and Amazon Rainforest of South America. It is located in Quảng Ninh Province, northeastern part of Vietnam. It features caves and thousands of limestones and islets in various sizes and shapes. Its name, Ha Long comes from a Chinese-Vietnamese word meaning ‘The descending dragon’.

Getting There

The nearest and the usual jump off point to Ha Long Bay is via Hanoi. Most of the tours depart and arrive back within the city’s Old Quarter. If you are that keen of a traveller, this UNESCO Heritage site is also doable in a DIY manner. However, if you do not want the hassle, there are several tour companies that offer different tour options for a Ha Long Bay excursion.

TIP:

  • If you are on a tight budget and you have the luxury of time to plan ahead, you may want to compare if the DIY will be way more cheaper than booking a tour on a travel agency. Wikitravel provides an updated and detailed information on how to go to Ha Long Bay via public transportation. 
  • If you plan to book a tour under a travel agency, make sure that it is legit. Tourist scammers are somehow rampant in Vietnam. You can book your tour on-line or at your hotel.

From Noi Bai International Airport to Old Quarter (Hanoi)

  • By Taxi: The easiest way. The travel time is approximately 1 hour and the fare is around 15USD to 20USD.
  • By private pick-up: You can have it arranged with your hotel if you want to be picked up from the airport. Just coordinate with them ahead of time. (RECOMMENDED)
  • By airport shuttle bus: The fare is around 40000VND / 2USD per person. You will be dropped at the center of the Old Quarter and from there, you can walk or take a cycle rickshaw to your hotel. Just ask the airport’s Information Staff for the schedule.
  • By public bus: Ride the bus Number 17 located just beside (right side) the terminal exit. The fare is 5000VND / 0.3 USD per person and run every 15-20 minutes from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Get off at Long Bien bus stop (last bus stop). Then walk for 5-10mins to get to the Old Quarter or just take a cycle rickshaw to your hotel.

Note: If you are coming from Manila, there is only one available flight via Cebu Pacific which departs at 10:15 PM and arrives at 1:30 AM the next day. I highly suggest that you arrange an airport pick up from your hotel or just book a hotel near the Airport and spend the night then leave early the next morning to Hanoi. Be very extra careful with the taxi drivers. I was scammed twice on my way to Hanoi and back to the Airport.

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Foggy morning at Ha Long Bay

Where To Stay

Around Noi Bai Aiport.
There are a lot of cheap hotels around the airport. I stayed overnight in Airport View Hotel located in Dien Xa, Noi Bai Airport, Hanoi. The room is air conditioned and can accommodate up to 2 persons. The rate starts at 15USD/night with Wi-Fi services. You can book your accommodation here in Agoda or in Booking.com.

Old Quarter Hanoi
I stayed in Hanoi Serenity Hotel in 1B Cua Dong Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. The hotel is really nice. It is also clean and it is near the city’s attraction. The room is air conditioned and can accommodate up to 2 persons. The rate starts at 10 to 12 USD/night with breakfast and free WiFi connection. You can use Agoda and Booking.com for your booking reference.

Note: For the backpackers and budget-travelers alike, there are several backpackers inn available near the airport and around the Old Quarter. Their rates can go as low as 5USD a night for an air-conditioned room. 

Ha Long Bay Cruise
The best way to experience Ha Long Bay is to board a junk boat and cruise around its thousand islands. Here are some of the lists of junk boats and cruises in Ha Long Bay. You can book your accommodation directly at Bay’s drop-off point or through your hotel. I booked for an overnight accommodation in Agoda for 83USD. It already includes a roundtrip transfer to and from Hanoi’s Old Quarter, full board meal, use of kayaks, tours and activities around the bay and an english speaking tour guide. You can also use the Booking.com for your reference.

Note: Luxurious and middle class cruise ships are also available in Ha Long Bay but the price can go as high as 450-500 USD per night. However, there are junk boats for those budget travelers who want to experience and spend the night in Ha Long Bay. I recommend to read some reviews of your chosen cruise before booking.Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 10.32.30 PM

What’s Inside the Cruise Ship

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Elizabeth Sails
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Upper Deck of The Cruise
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Upper Deck of The Cruise (rainy morning)
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The Bar
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My Room with a Private Bathroom

Activities

1.Visit Hang Sung Sot Cave

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My fellow solo traveler from Canada
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Hang Sung Sot View Deck
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Hang Sung Sot View Deck

2. Kayak and visit the nearby island and cave

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All of us are SOLO travelers! Amazing!

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With the Solo traveler from Japan!
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With the Solo traveler from Japan!

3. Visit the Floating Village and Floating Market!

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The Floating Village
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The Floating Village
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The Floating Market
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The Floating Market

4. Visit One of the Islands and Watch the Sun to set 🙂

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5. Hike one of the mountains and enjoy the Panoramic View of the Bay

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Mother and Daughter from Spain
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Mother and Daughter from Spain

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6. Interact with the Locals and with your Fellow Travelers!

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With the gang
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Solo traveler form Canada (in the middle) and the Lovely couple from U.K
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Yeah!!! Asian Invasion 🙂 Philippines-Singapore-Japan
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It’s Karaoke Time!
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Sunset watching!
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Our kind and humble Tour Guide!
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Our boatman!

Expenses (includes side trip in Hanoi)
Roundtrip Airfare: 85USD
Travel Tax: 36.8USD
Terminal fee: 12.5USD
Overnight Accommodation in Ha Long Bay: 83USD
Overnight Accommodation in Old Quarter: 12USD
Overnight Accommodation In Noi Bai: 13USD
City tour: 5USD
Bus/Taxi: 35USD
Food: 23USD
Total: 305.3USD

Sample Itinerary

Day 0 Overnight at Noi Bai
Day 1 Old Quarter

Ho Kiem Lake Visit

Watch Water Puppet Show

Stroll around the area

Day 2 Stop over at Art Gallery for People with Disability

Ha Long Bay Tour

Day 3 Half day Ha Long Bay Tour

Visit Night Market in Old Quarter

Day 4 Early Morning Flight to Philippines

Hanoi Side Trip

1.Ho Kiem Lake
Description: Major historical site in Vietnam and considered as the center of Hanoi.
Address: Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Admission fee: Free
Operating hours: 24/7

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2. Ngoc Son Temple
Description: Known as the Temple of the Jade Mountain and is located /connected in Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Address: Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Admission fee: .95USD
Operating hours: 7.30am-5.30pm
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3. Thang Long Water Puppet Show
Description: The longest running water puppet show in Asia. It features ancient history and source of livelihood of Vietnamese people.
Address: 57b Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Admission fee: 4.49USD
Operating hours: It depends (usually 1:30pm to 9pm)

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4. Explore the Old Quarter and Visit the night Market
Address: Hàng Đào, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Operating hours: 7pm onwards
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5. Art Gallery for People with Disability
Description: This is an art gallery/shop of people with disability in Vietnam. The bus stopped there on our way to Ha Long Bay.
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Thank you Ha Long Bay. I shall be back!

Next on my page: Ho Chi Minh – Siem Reap – Bkk -Krabi -Phi Phi Islands – Phuket

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1 Comment

  1. I love Halong bay.

    If you like a classic or luxury or private cruise in Halong bay, you should check in with one of these cruises:

    Halong bay 1 night cruise
    Bhaya Classic provides authentic Halong Bay 2 day 1 night cruise in style and comfort.
    Halong bay 3 day luxury cruise
    The Au Co is providing daily 3 day luxury cruise in Halong Bay.
    Halong bay 1 day private cruise
    Legend Halong is boutique cruise providing exclusive charter service offering travellers the chance to customize perfect 1 day private cruise around Halong Bay.

    Liked by 1 person

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